Tag Archives: hierarchy

We broke social

I discovered something alarming yesterday: social media is losing to messaging.

There must be a drift back, from open collaboration to closed channels, from thinking in the open to “Can I have a word in my office, please?”. It isn’t healthy for anyone to be in control of The Message, or for conclusions to have been agreed before meetings begin.

Everything I have done in the last couple of years has led me towards networks, away from the control mechanisms of hierarchy. Please let us not give up now, just because being more open is harder work for dishonest people. If good team players are better, imagine what the awesome creative power of players in multiple teams with overlapping goals could achieve.

You kids had one job: to make everything amazing

In between me starting to learn to ‘computer science’ and stopping writing compiled code in about 1985/6, the world of information systems moved from punched-cards and teletypes to on-line editing and batch-processing to full screen editing then windows and code management and source-code level debugging. I moved from mainframes that made you choose between upper-case letters or maths, to super-minis and graphical workstations. I didn’t move to PCs because they were so obviously THE WRONG WAY to go. This took less than 10 years.

Shortly after I stopped coding, I became aware that the portability of C and Unix wasn’t just snake-oil, and of the availability of relational databases, network filing systems, the object model and parallel computing: Hoare’s Communicating Sequential Processes.

Later, lost in server-land I became a ‘user’ of hypertext and browsers for documentation, a little later of the Internet. I use ‘social’ tools and believe that they are an enabling tool for a new society based on networks rather than hierarchy. What a pity they’re so clunky.

Inspired to make things better, I decided to learn to code again. It must all be so great by now!
What do you mean, “Do I want to be a front-end or a back-end developer?”
Well, since you ask, I want to be both and sideways and up and down, virtually travelling freely through multi-dimensional networks, working with 3D graphical representations of algorithms and business objects moving in object pipelines, using standardised Free tools in the Cloud, with the display and persistence mechanisms abstracted away, out of sight as implementation details to worry about later, but with automated parallelism and fault tolerance.

What? What’s THIS? Why am I expected to work with a tagging language designed for sequential documents? Seriously, you want me to specify a font? I have to write different code for web browsers or phones?! And where is my hover-board? What the hell have you people been doing?
Did Microsoft lead you into the woods to see their unicorn foals? Were they goats in a dunce’s cap?

Are we all back now? Hold someone’s hand. We can get through this if we all stay together and look out for the traps. Don’t get too close to the googles. They seem friendly but they’ll pick your packets.

Small Pieces Loosely Tied Together With URLs

In my last post, I mentioned Bruce Lawson’s talk on the Extensible Web, before ‘going off on a rant’ about the long term viability of the Web as a development platform. Today, I would like to talk about a very basic thing he mentioned: URLs, Uniform Resource Locators.

Bruce was the third of three(*) prominent figures from the world of the world wide web who I’ve seen speak out publicly recently about the deteriorating ecosystem of The Internet. Until now, I’ve seen this as a reaction by the established potential monopolies to constrain the network of Free software that threatens their power structures, into hierarchical walled gardens that they hope to control. They could then compete to tempt us into their own secret garden and corral our social network into their own ‘safe space’, like gently grazing cash cows who believe they have free will. Big Data companies want a single point of entry to their private network of services, as a replacement for software licences; or to give away free because we, the click-cattle, are the product.

I was reminded a couple of days ago that a hierarchy is a structure built out of single points of failure. Internet Domains are notionally tree-structured. This may be the biggest design fault in the Internet Protocol stack.

Bruce’s talk pointed out that URLs are the key resources that we are losing. The Internet is hand-crocheted out of fine threads that can snap easily. They are connected onto ‘ports’ at IP addresses. They are the way straight through the garden gate to the heart of each garden. This interconnectedness provides the biodiversity we need. URLs are the addresses the postal service has allocated to each letter-box in the garden doors. They are used by the Internet to deliver your packets. If URLs have letter-boxes in the outside door and the gardeners can be trusted to deliver the packets then though the web is owned by private companies, it is still functional. If any URL is only available to those inside the walled garden then its threads to the outside world have been cut. The internal resources have been made private to a corporation. Soon, the gardeners can be paid in Garden-coin, to be spent only in the company shop.

If the URLs are hidden, we won’t have an Internet. We will have a tree of nets, like before the Internet was created, when no-one got fired for buying IBM and IT Directors ate well.

Any similarity between this tactic and the UK government’s attempts to force cities to elect a mayor as a single point of contact, instead of the current ‘networked chaos’, in exchange for ‘local, distributed democracy’ is entirely imaginary/a lie/coincidental/true. Whatever.

As ‘Sun Microsystems’ might have said, “The Network is the Democracy.” Our revolution is under attack from reactionary forces. We must storm the barricades.

* The other 2 were:
David Winer, @davewiner inventor of RSS and the Iranian Blogfather, Hossein Derekshan who suffered more than most of us for blogging


Open Rights (in Birmingham)

Last night I went to this: https://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/94628536/ , the first meeting of the ‘Open Rights Group Birmingham’, to see what THAT is all about.

There was a table full of us, gathered from the worlds of computing, art and politics. Thinking about what happened, I’ve realised that although I’m interested in all three areas, I’ve never experienced them mashed-up before. We were in the cafe at Birmingham Open Media, after closing time, like radicals, ready to change the world.

Our mission from HQ, should we choose to accept it, was to consider what Brum could do to help ORG’s ‘Snooper’s Charter’ campaign: “We demand an end to indiscriminate retention, collection and analysis of everyone’s Internet communications, regardless of whether they are suspected of a crime. We want the police and intelligence agencies to have powers that are effective and genuinely protect our privacy and freedom of speech.”

What fascinated me most was the different intuitive responses of the three groups. The techies saw it as a problem to be fixed or provided with tools. Those in public services and the world of politics saw a policy decision to be campaigned on and influenced, using their knowledge of the tools of our broken democracy and those from the art world saw it as something to be responded to, to influence public opinion. That is a heady combination: identify a problem, motivate popular demand for change to generate political appetite, provide a technical solution. It also demonstrates that politicians are often the blockers rather than the enablers of societal change.

I’ve also watched a video on the societal imperatives driving the move of businesses from hierarchies to networks. Imagine that applied to democracy. Netwocracy?

The Empire Strikes Back

Intranets were intended to copy the success of the Internet within an organisations’ borders. They were the embodiment of ‘small pieces, loosely joined’, to cut through the hierarchical control structures of a large enterprise, to allow local innovation, human conversations and direct access to expertise.

That’s why they needed a ‘hub’. A star-structure is just a tree-structure, drawn from above (and there are no longer any borders.) The enemy (your customer) has breached your outer defences. Beware, you may have to listen to them. The last thing you need now is your staff cooperating, without your permission.

A Gravitational Map of Cities

I recently made a light-hearted comment that Birmingham exerts a gravitational pull on its surrounding area. The same would be true to an even greater extent for London and that extends nationwide and beyond. This caused me to  remember reading a few months ago an economic observation that the average income of people in a city tends to increase with size because the number of paths for individuals to network and cooperate grows exponentially. This leads economists to extrapolate to a future in which most of the human population of Earth lives in densely populated mega-cities.

In contrast to this, for several years, I’ve been observing the gradual breakdown of hierarchy in companies, creative ‘industries’ and local politics (and yes, the star architecture of a city is a tree, drawn from above/below; a hierarchy. Hello, London outer-zone low-life.) Yet, the high-flying city worker’s dream is often to retire to a country cottage, away from the madness.

So why live in cities? The Internet has made it possible for us to belong to several distributed tribes, to “network” in a geography-free way, and yet… I’ve recently felt drawn by the culture of a place. I’ve joined Birmingham.io, a network of “hipsters, hackers & hustlers”, in and around Brum’s thriving ‘digital startup scene’. This netizen is feeling confused.

When I don’t know what I think, I draw pictures. When I don’t yet have an image in my head, I talk to people or get software to draw the picture for me. This time, I didn’t even know what software to use. I asked my local(ish) community if anyone knew of software that drew gravitational maps. I wasn’t sure what the question meant at the time, either: https://talk.birmingham.io/t/a-gravitational-map-of-uk-cities/1201

I think my mental image is becoming a bit clearer now: I imagine a map of the UK showing a circle for each of the n largest cities, proportional to it’s size (population / area, since the definition of city limits are fairly arbitrary. Cities will need to be broken down further, perhaps into post-codes, electoral wards or boroughs. I think employment opportunities, incomes and living costs will become relevant at a later stage, to fully explain population movement but let’s keep the model as simple as possible, for now. Represent these circles by a number, analogous to the mass of a planet or star then ‘do physics’. Clearly these celestial bodies are unusual because they have fixed relative positions but their populations feel the pull of other cities, just as the oceans of Earth experience the forces which lead to tidal movements.

How hard can it be to turn this into a software model? Maybe I’ve found an itch I can  scratch with code <cleans cobwebs off skillz>.

From Nepotism in a Hierarchic Mediocrisy to Competition in a Networked Meritocracy

I wrote this post originally on LinkedIn.

“Have been listening to Euan Semple & Megan Murray ‘Shift’ podcast on Leadership, while stripping wallpaper, without management, because I understood the common goal. Thoughts were provoked.

Who is the leader of the distributed network of Free Software developers? When we move from hierarchical companies, competing, to co-operating groups of people with shared values, does the nature of leadership change? Is leadership an emergent property of effectiveness, instead of power? Perhaps we move from the ‘warring families’ model to competition between cultures. My money is on the Social animals.”


Changing Socialism

I’ve been trying to get my head around politics, hierarchy and evolution.
I don’t believe in “growth” and since growth is the  fuel of Capitalism I can’t believe in market capitalism, or in the establishment hierarchy which supports it but I can see markets with my own eyes. They are real, so I have to believe in them.

I’ve also seen that neither the USSR or China were able to make their versions of Socialism work, and closer to home, I found Arthur Scargill at least as terrifying as Maggie Thatcher.

We have talked of “The Collider”. Perhaps it could help? An early, Leanly Manufactured prototype has been built and I have installed it, with my bed as the focus point, so I can start my research every morning before The Street is thoroughly aired.

The information feeds at this point are:

  • BBC Radio 4 – delivered by the medium of DAB alarm-clock radio. I like to think that the delay softens the impact. I listen for an hour through the filter of semi-conciousness that precedes my first coffee. The  filter throws the idea-stream into soft-focus, which I hope will model biological mutation.

Caffeine consumption is best achieved in an at least semi-upright posture which then enables my Internet feeds. They normally consist of

  • Facebook – but it is rarely fun in the morning. I seem to befriend more owls than worms, so my first call is often
  • LinkedIn – but I’d already thrown some bait out there yesterday. I’d posted a quotation I found, about ‘The Lean Mindset’ at http://www.poppendieck.com
    “Great companies are not in business to make money, they make money to stay in business and accomplish an important purpose.”
    I also responded to a link to an article about hierarchy on Forbes.com, called:
    ‘No Managers? No Hierarchy? No Way!’
    It had 5 ‘thumbs up’ and one comment in agreement when I arrived (well “kind of”. He may have been disagreeing politely). I said, “I disagree that nature is inherently hierarchical…” then everything went quiet. Top-level LinkedIn appears to be frequented by few people willing to take the chance of being on the Wrong side of an argument. I asked questions but had received no reply. I must assume that the author took them to be rhetorical or wished me to go away.

This seems to be what hierarchies do to protect themselves. (The next stages are social exclusion of the critic and finally expulsion, should anyone wish to plot their own position on a handy graph.) It was too early for fighting or having a perfectly sound argument ignored, so on to

  • Twitter -A few days ago, I realised most of my favourite tweeters are young, female, introverted, hopeful misanthropes who are interested in EVERYTHING but, like me, take an outsider’s view on Real Life. This probably says something about me but who cares what anyone else thinks, right?

I find Nat Guest, @unfortunatalie particularly good to wake up to.

  1. She gets up at a sensible time. There won’t be a backlog to catch up on. Let’s face it, Twitter, I’m only ever going to see a sunrise if I stay up particularly late.
  2. With Nat, there is rarely any need for further randomisation in pre-processing. She comes ready-muxed.
  3. I totally relate to her pseudo-parallel, chaotic changes in thought direction, constant “over” analysis and bemused observation of life’s absurdities.

This morning, in between her dislike of Calvin & Hobbes, increased bean varieties, the modern face of racism and a brief adventure into self-parody she told a sad story of Socialism failing. Failing again. “My favourite socialist-run stationery shop is closing. He has suffragette printing presses in his basement. Another woman & I are staring in through the window & commiserating”, she tweeted.
This place has history. It seems the sort of place London Communists might have gathered before marching to protect the Jewish commuity from the Blackshirts, when the police weren’t going to – one of England’s finest moments.
But look at that window display. It could be Soviet Russia. It’s main competitor is probably Amazon. How ironic.

There was a newsagent opposite my house that had remained unchanged since at least the mid-nineteen-sixties. It closed a few years ago, when the matriarch of the family, back minding the shop, was threatened with a gun. As far as I know, it was run along market-capitalist lines, as a family business. It just wasn’t making enough to be worth fighting for any more. Two car parking spaces were plenty. The environment had changed. I only ever went in there a few times, as a child and with my children. They didn’t sell much I wanted. I liked knowing it was there though and I miss it. It was a sign that things didn’t always have to change.

If you’re worried about the old lady, she told the robber, “bugger off, you’ll have to shoot me first” and he ran away. I wonder if that’s worth trying with Tower Hamlets Council. She didn’t live much longer though. I guess the shop was her life.

Maybe evolution has pre-disposed us to be selfish and grow because it is too dangerous to stay still, and contraction also causes resource depletion. We should find bigger purposes that we can all believe in.

If you’d like to know more about the Spitalfields shop, @unfortunatelie sent me this
spitalfieldslife.com > 2010 > 02 > 03 > Gary-arber-printer <http://spitalfieldslife.com/2010/02/03/gary-arber-printer/>  I was wrong about Communist Russia.
Natalie Guest owns the Copyleft to the photographs but has given permission to use them under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial Licence https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

My Mindmap Wants To Womble Free

I’m writing ‘a book’ (possibly four) at the moment. I’ve already made public my idea that the ‘social networks’ that we’ve knitted out of the Internet can be used as an “idea collider”, to generate creativity; in the same way that particle accelerators are used to increase the rate of improbable collisions and accelerate scientific data collection and discovery.

Last night I read a tweet from Dave Winer. He both wrote and uses the outline editing tool Fargo to collect his creative sparks. Dave linked to an article by Alex Hillman on ‘Lifehacker’, which suggested that we should all keep such a ‘spark file’ for our light-bulb moments. This excited the idea particles floating in my brain. You might say it dropped a ‘spark’ on the dry tinder I’d been collecting and I replied. Dave didn’t understand a word I said. This post is an attempt to clarify what I think, at least to me.

What I didn’t look at last night was the embedded video, ‘outlining’ Steven Johnson’s book. It ends, “Chance favours the connected mind”. Steve smashed into my thinking the notion that we are not colliding ideas but idea components. We may not be bouncing ideas off one another, hoping for more sparks but fusing together half-baked ideas to make a whole. Almost like ‘society’ still exists on the Internet. Yikes!

Fargo is a web-accessible, scriptable, outlining tool that uses Cloud storage. “An outliner is a text editor that organizes information in a hierarchy”; what we often call a tree but is more often represented as a root system, drawn from the side.

Trello is one of many software implementations of ‘Kanban boards’. The idea was adopted from the Japanese automotive industry to become very popular with Agile software developers and several other more specialised software implementations exist. Trello’s blog proposed “The great horizontal killer applications are actually just fancy data structures. Spreadsheets are not just tools for doing “what-if” analysis. They provide a specific data structure: a table.” Trello’s specialist data structure is ‘List of lists’.

My own brain problem is not memory fragmentation but memory capacity. The fire-bucket I’ve used to catch my sparks for the last few years has been Mindmapping. A mind-map is a tree (or root) drawn from above (or below.)

The first point I failed to express last night was that ‘outlining’, Kanban boards and mind-mapping are topologically equivalent activities.
Hierarchies, list of lists and mind-maps are sylistic variations of exactly the same idea. My Spark File tool of choice is a mind-mapper called Freemind. I particularly like it because (it’s Free, ) it is graphical and allows links between branches, at any level. It breaks the hierarchy. The results are often ugly – just like reality.

Albert Einstein said that a model should be as simple as possible but no simpler. Human society is not a hierarchy but a complex network built on personal relationships interspersed with imposed structure. One of our favourite models is a delusion. If you doubt this, look at a platypus. Yes, I believe there is a better model but I’m still Wombling for half-baked ideas.

Dave Winer’s tweet that started this <https://twitter.com/davewiner/status/448587642813546496
Alex Hillman on Lifehacker <http://lifehacker.com/5941997/defrag-your-brain-with-a-spark-file, including the video outline of Steven Johnson’s book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’.
Trello blog entry on data structures http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2012/01/06.html

Outline Editors http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliner
Fargo http://threads2.scripting.com/2013/april/introducingFargo
Kanban boards http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_board
Trello http://blog.trello.com/trello-ios-2-5/
Mindmapping http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map
Freemind http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page